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Monday, August 21, 2017

By Keith Coffman

COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. (Reuters) — Police on Saturday identified the suspect in a deadly shooting at a Planned Parenthood clinic in Colorado Springs as 57-year-old Robert L. Dear, but released no further information about him.

The gunman who stormed the clinic in central Colorado on Friday killed three people, including a police officer, and wounded nine others before surrendering after a standoff at the facility lasting several hours, authorities said.

Police in Colorado Springs identified Dear as the suspect in a Tweet on Saturday. According to jail records he was being held without bail and was scheduled for a preliminary court hearing on Monday.

The rampage, which took place at a clinic that provides health services including abortions, was believed to be the first fatal attack on an abortion provider in the United States in six years. Police have not discussed the suspect’s motives.

The clinic in Colorado Springs, Colorado’s second largest city, has been repeatedly targeted for protests by anti-abortion activists.

The assailant was armed with a rifle when he entered the clinic and opened fire shortly before noon on Friday, authorities said.

Police swarming the scene pursued the man into the building, trading gunfire with the suspect as authorities tracked their movements from room to room by watching live video feeds from security cameras mounted inside.

Officers closing in on the gunman managed to talk him into giving himself up inside, and he was taken into custody more than five hours after the violence began.

Those killed were a police officer and two civilians, Colorado Springs Police Chief Peter Carey told reporters on Friday. All nine surviving victims — five police officers and four civilians — were listed in good condition at area hospitals, he said.

As he has done frequently in cases of recent mass shootings in the United States, President Barack Obama urged measures to make it harder for criminals to get guns.

“We have to do something about the easy accessibility of weapons of war on our streets to people who have no business wielding them. Period,” Obama said in a statement on Saturday. “Enough is enough.”

ITEMS LEFT ON SCENE ‘NO LONGER A THREAT’

Police said progress in securing the building was slowed by the fact that the gunman brought “some bags” with him into the clinic and left several items outside, all of which needed to be checked for possible booby traps or explosives.

Those items were secured and processed and were now “no longer a threat,” police said via Twitter on Saturday morning.

The dead policeman in Friday’s shooting was identified as Garrett Swasey, 44, a campus police officer for the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs who joined city police in responding to the first reports of shots fired, authorities said. The dead civilians were not named.

Although there was no word on motives for the shooting, the president of Planned Parenthood’s Rocky Mountains region, Vicki Cowart, suggested a climate of rancor surrounding abortion in the United States had set the stage for such violence.

“We share the concerns of many Americans that extremists are creating a poisonous environment that feeds domestic terrorism in this country,” she said.

Planned Parenthood in recent years moved its Colorado City clinic to new quarters on the city’s northwest side — a facility that opponents of abortion had called a “fortress.”

The national non-profit group, devoted to providing a range of reproductive health services, including abortions, has come under renewed pressure this year from conservatives in Congress seeking to cut off federal funding for the organization.

At least eight workers at clinics providing abortions have been killed since 1977, according to the National Abortion Federation — most recently in 2009, when doctor George Tiller was shot to death at church in Wichita, Kansas.

Clinics have reported nearly 7,000 incidents of trespassing, vandalism, arson, death threats, and other forms of violence since then, according to the federation.

As in much of the rest of the country, abortion is a divisive issue in Colorado. The issue figured prominently in attack ads during last year’s U.S. Senate race between incumbent Democrat Mark Udall and Republican challenger Cory Gardner, who won the election.

Colorado Springs, home to the U.S. Air Force Academy and the U.S. Olympic training center, is also a hub for conservative Christian groups such as Focus on the Family that oppose abortion.

Photo: A suspect is taken into custody outside a Planned Parenthood center in Colorado Springs, Colorado November 27, 2015. REUTERS/Isaiah J. Downing